Marisa’s Hot Tips for Negotiating Contracts

 In Career Guide

Marisa Ricci | @mariccikova | Photo by: Giorgia Gaeta | Toronto, Canada | November 2020 | 6 minute read

How to avoid getting taken advantage of as an independent dance artist.

Being an independent dance artist is a difficult job. Not only must one excel at their craft but they must also wear many hats to manage themselves as a business. Suddenly it isn’t just about being a dancer, but also a receptionist, a marketer, an accountant and even a lawyer, for example.

It is common for employers in any professional field to try getting more for less from those under them…especially from young, perhaps inexperienced, independent workers. With the goal of preventing artists from getting taken advantage of, below is a list of useful tips to support you in negotiation, leadership roles, and self-or group-representation.


Know what is expected of you and hold the other party accountable for what you are expecting from them in return. Yes, even your friends…

Whether it is requiring you for extra rehearsal time, asking you to help with promotional materials, ticket sales or fundraising, performing in additional shows, etc. If these are not part of your contract, you are not legally required to do them. Depending on the circumstance, you may agree to the conditions, but note that you may be entitled to negotiate appropriate compensation for the additional work.

In contrast, once a contract is signed, not knowing what you have agreed to simply from failure to read through the details, is not an acceptable excuse to breach the agreement.


If something is unclear, do not be afraid to question it. If you do not agree with something that is proposed in your contract, ask if a reasonable change or compromise can be agreed upon.

Keep a paper trail of all that you have discussed so that you can always reference. Emails, texts, even phone calls or in-person discussions can be binding and can provide you with leverage if negotiations are required later on.

There is no such thing as being too thorough. You have a right to know exactly what you are getting yourself into as well as point out when things aren’t going exactly according to the agreement.


Be aware of what you have to offer and where you stand within the industry’s scale. Knowing industry standards (which varies depending on location) can give you a good point of reference to help find your base margins. Over time you will build your credibility and can expect to be fairly compensated for it.

For example, if you are a student with zero experience, you may be asked to work as an unpaid apprentice or offered a minimal rate or exchange. Conversely, if you have an extensive CV, several years of experience, or have especially unique skills, then you may be entitled to negotiate for more than the minimum.

Due to the nature of the dance industry, it is common for projects to be under-funded or fall into the “passion project” category. Though perhaps not lucrative, this type of work can still be fulfilling in various ways. However, keeping in mind that the bills don’t get paid in “exposure cheques,” consider whether the opportunity is worth your energy and how it can contribute to your career development before committing.

If you are the employer, consider how you would feel as the artist and ensure that you are making a fair offer, be clear and give as much detail as possible. Treat them with respect and expect that some compromise might be necessary.

It may also be helpful to prepare a list of hourly or flat-rates for yourself (for choreography, teaching, performance, rehearsal direction, mentorship, adjudication, etc.). Alternatively, if you are the producer of a project, come equipped with a realistic budget to propose to your investor or client. This way you can easily demonstrate what you believe your time is worth and inform your clients what they should expect to get in return for their money.


Learn what resources may be available to you. There are a number of online platforms as well as local groups that offer support for independent artists. These are meant for you to consult when you need help and to keep yourself informed about the industry.

If you know a lawyer, ask them if they’d be willing to browse through your contract. If you know an accountant, consult them. Your peers can also be a good resource. Fellow artists who may have more experience than you could offer good advice, or direct you on the right course.


Nobody likes a whiner…If you are unhappy with the way things are going during your contract, it is better to address it than to just sit around complaining – especially out loud!

Knowing the correct channels to navigate through is also important. Going directly to the big boss may not always be the most appropriate. For example, if you are working with an agent, speak to them first. If you are working in a group and collectively agree upon an issue, it could be a good idea to elect a representative to speak on your behalf.

Find the best way to approach each situation. Stand up for yourself, but always do so with kindness. You may need to be more aggressive or persistent from time to time, but that does not mean you can’t still be respectful and maintain your professionalism. This goes a long way.

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